This is not rock music by a long shot. Rather, it's tribal and funky. Rusted Root is unlike any other album I own. Who would have ever guessed that this band could possibly be from the United States? Not me, but they actually originate in 1990 from Pittsburgh. You can't get much more American than that.
Rusted Root is an ecletic band that mixes beats from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America together to form a sound that is not only glorious and original, but very free flowing. The lineup of artists is as follows (when listening to the music it sounds as though there is an entire circus): Michael Glabicki (vocals, guitar), Liz Berlin (vocals, percussion), Patrick Norman (bass, vocals), and Jim Donovan (drums, percussion), John Buynak (percussion, winds), and Jim DiSpirito (percussion).
When I Woke is the band's second album, the first being Cruel Sun that was released by Blue Duck Records in 1992. When I Woke debuted on Mercury records in 1995 and quickly became popular in alternative circles and college radio based in part on the hip, happy track "Send Me On My Way." Of course, as with all other records, I was attracted to this one based entirely on that track. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. "Send Me On My Way" was a very good and very fair representation of the somewhat strange band from Philly.
Rusted Root has deep roots in Latin music like that of Santana. Fortunately for the band, they have a different outlook on the music scene rather than simply being followers. And, to be quite honest, I have never heard anything like the music from Rusted Root before or since this album (and their subsequent ones, of course). Produced by Bill Bottrell, When I Woke is brilliant. Period. I don't want to get bogged down in details before that is said. Bottrell's other production credits include music from: Sheryl Crow, Tom Petty, and the supergroup known as the Traveling Wilburys. In addition to the welcomed success of Send Me On My Way," the first single from the album was the instrumental Drum Trip. That track has also gotten it's share of airplay and has been featured even on television.
As I just stated, Drum Trip is a wholly instrumental track. It's got great beats, a great sound, and for that matter is a very good introduction to an outstanding album. As you probably guessed, there are drum beats. Of course, these drums are not rock drums. Rather, they are the hand-beaten beats of a African or tribal drum. There is chanting and magical sounds to this track. Very pretty.
Ecstacy is a great, energetic song. It starts with a great Latin beat with drums, cymbals, and even a Latin guitar. Absolutely brilliant. The vocals are so wonderfully sung, too. In fact, I want to mention that the music sounds so Latin that it's almost impossible to distinguish that the lyrics are in fact sung in English. This is evidence that the vocals are part of a whole. They aren't meant to distract, rather they are meant to add to the entire Rusted Root experience. The guitars remind me very much of Santana especially of late.
My favorite song of the album is of course Send Me On My Way. No question, this is one of the happiest and most complex songs on my top fifty songs of all-time list. Yes, you read that right. This is a brilliant track. Who could deny that they like the light guitar and twirling lyrics from Glabicki. The sounds are light and beautiful with a washboard and a steel drub in addition to a very welcome pan flute. You feel good immediately after having heard this track. Don't miss this one...you may remember it from a few years ago. Fortunately, it's sound is more timeless than most rock and pop. This is absolutely wonderful music. I love the line I would like to hold my little hand.
Cruel Sun is both a Latin and Middle Eastern track. It's very calming, very relaxed and very much worth your ear. There is no question that music like this could easily have a very mainstream following. It's a gorgeous song with both Glabicki and Berlin's vocals. Berlin backs Glabicki's vocals with energy and excitement. It's an intense track. Absolutely perfect. I couldn't imagine a more wonderful track. It's a very long track, but there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not bored by it for even a millisecond.
Beautiful People is also gorgeous. Although, the beat and the feeling about the song is much sadder than many of the others. It's led by a flute, an acoustic guitar, and humming. Don't miss this one. Period. It's delightful, refreshing, and wonderful. The vocals near perfection. Glabicki's voice is exactly what it should be. It is a part of the music and melody. It works, not against or on top of, the goal of the song. Here's the first verse for the feeling of this slow song:
Come and hear the funeral marchin
Maybe this is your suicide
Maybe this is more pure
Pure and simple
Maybe this is all I have for
Home, home, home, daddy
Again infused with Latin music, Martyr represents what this band does best. They jam much in the same sense that the Grateful Dead jammed. Their music, as with this song, is very natural and very free flowing. I don't feel any sense that they are forcing a sound upon themselves. Another great one. Food & Creative Love is just that. Both delicious and creative. It's a groovy blues track led by the divine voice produced by Berlin. This song is especially impressive since it is a creative and emotional jump from the very World music represented in other tracks. Brilliant again! It's much more a rock/pop song than others, too.
Lost in a Crowd is also great. It's yearning and pleading and needing attention. Your attention. It's great with a, get this, R&B feel to it somehow infused with traditional African music. I could go through this album song-by-song and rave about how wonderful each is. There is no question that this is a strong 5 star album. Each of the songs not mentioned, Cat Turned Blue, Rain, Laugh as the Sun, Infinite Tamboura, and Back to the Earth are also perfect. Don't hit skip or you'll be sorry.
Rusted Root is a brilliant, diverse, entertaining, and for that matter infinitely talented band. Don't be thrown by the World Music category this band can easily fit into. If you enjoy Santana's Latin groove, the Grateful Dead's jamming, or even the first and most popular song from this band, pick up When I Woke. Please?!